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Go overseas worry-free
posted in: Financial Wellness
by Kristin Smith

Tips to know before you go abroad

Do you love traveling the world but worry about keeping your identity, and your bank account, safe while doing so? We do too, so we decided to speak to someone in the know. Brian McGill, Supervisor of Marketing and Member Development at IAA Credit Union, sat down with us for some real talk about traveling overseas while keeping your money safe here in the states.

What’s the biggest mistake you see people make with their money when they travel internationally? Not having multiple forms of payment during a trip. Don’t just rely on one credit card. Having backup forms of payment is key in case your primary form of payment is lost, stolen, or won’t work where you are visiting.

What is the most affordable way to exchange currency? Your credit union or bank would be the most economical exchange before traveling. If you don’t need cash prior to arrival, using a local ATM is a good, affordable way to get foreign currency. You’d pay the ATM fee and a 1%-3% international charge, but it’s still a better option than the hotel exchange rates or currency exchanges at airports. You’ll pay the highest surcharges at those locations. You should also ask your financial institution if a 5-digit PIN will work at ATMs where you are going. Some foreign ATM’s only recognize 4-digit PINS. 

Should you use your debit card when you are in another country? Debit cards can be used in most countries. However, a debit card is a direct portal to your personal account and the money in it. While you would not be liable for fraudulent transactions, you definitely don’t want your account drained of funds while traveling.

Are credit cards safe to use? We recommend using credit cards when traveling as much as possible. The major credit card companies and financial institutions monitor transactions carefully. They have a world-wide network of fraud analysts to help insure transactions are legitimate. With credit cards, you are not liable for fraudulent charges, and the money is not coming directly out of your personal account as it would when using a debit card.

Are traveler’s checks still a thing? Pre-paid “travel money” cards have primarily replaced the checks. They usually can be reloaded in 24 hours online or by phone. Beware though, because reload charges can apply. There is still zero-liability for fraudulent use, similar to conventional credit and debit cards.

Should you contact your bank before you leave so they don’t question any international charges? Always make sure to contact your credit union or bank before traveling. Let them know the dates and destinations of your trip. Their fraud monitoring networks will note this information to make sure legitimate transactions are not denied, while keeping an eye out for fraudulent ones. We also highly recommend doing this when traveling in the United States as well.

What do you do if someone steals your identity while you are traveling internationally? First, contact your financial institutions quickly to alert them. This helps to insure you have adequate means of payment to continue your trip and return home. Depending on the level of personal information that was compromised, you also need to make sure Passports and travel-related documents are still valid. You should also contact the credit reporting agencies to have a freeze applied to your reports until you have sorted out the details of the identify theft.

What can people do to protect themselves? Be vigilant.

Brian provided us with so many excellent tips for keeping yourself financially secure while traveling that we decided we needed a way to take it with us on our next trip. We’ve created a cheat sheet with the most important information. Stick it in your purse or wallet the next time you travel. We laminated our copies.

Let us know what steps you take to protect your money and identity when traveling.

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